Daily Mail photographer’s new exhibit strips away “background of homelessness”

BOB WOJCIESZAK/DAILY MAIL
“I’d steal, I’d cheat, whatever; I’d stand there and lie to your face and make you believe me. Anything to get my pill, or my crack or whatever I was using at the time. I don’t want that lifestyle anymore.” Robert came to Harvest Time on home confinement and was recently arrested for breaking the terms of that confinement.
BOB WOJCIESZAK/DAILY MAIL
“Anywhere I go, I clean, that’s what I do the best. People give me money, you know, when they see me out there. One man gave me fifty dollars one time. I don’t ask them for it, he just gave it to me because he liked the way I picked up trash and stuff on the East End and kept it clean because it’s close to the state Capitol, you know, and I want the state Capitol to be clean.”
BOB WOJCIESZAK/DAILY MAIL
“My name ever since I can remember it has been Eagle Bear, but my Christian name is John.”
BOB WOJCIESZAK/DAILY MAIL
This man goes by the name Santa. “You can make things bad for yourself if you want to,” he said. “You can make things good for yourself if you try.”
BOB WOJCIESZAK/DAILY MAIL
“Bad choices, family and more bad choices,” is how 19-year-old Curtis became homeless. Harvest Time was helping him get his GED, but he left the shelter about a month ago.

Daily Mail photographer Bob Wojcieszak has seen lots of homeless shelters in his 21 years at this newspaper.

But he noticed something special when he visited Harvest Time on Charleston’s West Side while on assignment with reporter Charlotte Smith last year.

“What struck me about this place was the amount of smiles I saw,” he said.

He started volunteering at Harvest Time occasionally, processing residents at the shelter’s front desk. He got to know Pastor Jess Inclenrock (known as “Pastor Rock” by residents) and his wife Christy.

“I saw with my own eyes the things they had taken on, and frankly, it made my jaw drop. Without assistance of any kind other than donations, this little hole-in-the-wall church feeds anyone twice a day and houses somewhere around 15 to as many as 40 homeless men,” he said.

He said the Inclenrocks have made a concerted effort to break the cycle of homelessness by helping residents get important documents, continue their education, find jobs and make housing arrangements.

Wojcieszak also became close with some of the homeless men who frequented Harvest Time, learning the stories behind their current situation and how they are trying to get back on their feet.

Starting in mid-May, Wojcieszak began lugging his cameras, lighting equipment and a background to Harvest Time to take photos of the residents.

His collection of portraits, which he has titled “Faces of the Redeemed,” will be on display during Thursday’s ArtWalk at Romano and Associates, 230 Capitol St.

(CLICK HERE TO SEE A GALLERY OF WOJCIESZAK’S PORTRAITS)

The portraits were inspired by Irving Penn, a longtime photographer for “Vogue” magazine whom Wojcieszak discovered in college.

Penn was known for his portraits, taking pictures of everyone from President John F. Kennedy and Salvador Dali to Nicole Kidman and Al Pacino. He often seated his subjects in a corner or against a gray background, and then employed a controlled overhead “north light” to illuminate them.

“(Penn) said this just revealed their personalities,” Wojcieszak said. “The more I delved into him, the more I loved his style.”

Wojcieszak’s portraits of Harvest Time residents mimic Penn’s technique. The men are all seated against a gray background, which he set up in the church’s sanctuary. The subjects are lit with strong directional lighting.

And, just like Penn’s work, the photos are all in black and white.

Wojcieszak said he chose the stark, monochrome look on purpose.

“I wanted to strip away the background of homelessness and show the human beings,” he said. “I just want to give them their humanity back.

“I think you see the person for who they really are. You get to see genuine emotion.”

He also interviewed his subjects while shooting the photographs, which helped generate some of the emotion seen in the portraits.

Wojcieszak said he would ask each man’s name, age and hometown.

“Then I’d drop the bomb and ask ‘How come you’re homeless?’ It was amazing what happened. It didn’t take long, then the guys were just rambling on. They all had stories.”

One photo shows a shelter resident, Robert Sigman, folding his hands and looking to the ceiling.

Wojcieszak said the photo looks posed, but it wasn’t.

Sigman is a longtime drug addict who admits to lying, cheating and stealing to support his habit. He told Wojcieszak he should have been dead years ago.

“He just folded his hands, looked up to heaven and says ‘God help me, I made it.’”

ArtWalk is held the third Thursday of each month from July to October. The event runs from 5 to 8 p.m. with more than 20 downtown locations featuring a variety of art exhibits.

For more information, visit www.charlestonartwalk.org.

Contact writer Zack Harold at 304-348-4830 or zack.harold@dailymailwv.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ZackHarold.

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